Skip to main content

Full text of "The Gay Genius"

See other formats

THE YELLOW TOWER                        161

against future calamities. Waiting in vain for a reply, he modified
ais proposal and recommended the building of dams not with rock,
but with strong timber reinforcements. In an official letter the
Emperor then congratulated him on his great work, and in February
of the following year, Tungpo was accorded a grant of over $30,000
and 18,000 bushels of rice, and provision for hiring 7,200 men to build
a wooden dam along the south-east side of the city. On top of this
outer city wall, following his love for architecture, Su Tungpo had a
tower built a hundred feet high, which was called the Yellow Tower.
Later this became the name of the collection of poems that he wrote
during his term at Suchow, just as the Chaojan Terrace he built at
Michow was used as the title of the collection of his poems written

The Yellow Tower was so called because of a belief in the old
"Chinese cosmogony. According to this system, all things in the uni-
verse are composed of five elements, gold, wood, water, fire, and earth.
Each of these stands for a principle, such as hardness, growth, fluidity,
heat, gravity, etc., principles which have a universal meaning and are
supposed to apply not only to the physical universe but also to life
functions and human character and conduct, applicable, for instance,
to a matrimonial match. All life consists of the interplay of these five
principles which overcome or reinforce one another, and each of the
dements has a colour which is symbolic of that element. Curiously,
yellow stands for the earth and black stands for water, and the yellow
earth is supposed to overcome the black water by its power of absorp-
tion. The name given the Yellow Tower was, therefore, symbolic of
the power to resist water.

On the ninth day of the ninth moon, 1078, there was a grand open-
ing ceremony of the Yellow Tower. Su Tungpo was truly happy.
The people had been saved from a flood, they had worked for over
half a year at the building of the dam and the tower; and the tower
belonged to the people of the city as a visible symbol of their security
against future inundations. The whole town was present to witness
the opening ceremony. There stood the Yellow Tower, a hundred feet
> high, on top of the East Gate, with flag-poles fifty feet high below. It
was in the style of a broad pagoda, and the party went up to the top
to get a view of the surrounding country. There was a heavy fog
that morning, and as they looked out of the window and heard the
squeaking oars of the boats passing below, they had the feeling of
being on a ship at sea. Soon the sky cleared and they could see fishing
villages in the distance and half a dozen temples scattered on the hill-
sides below the jagged mountain peaks. The old people felt cold, and
Su Tungpo asked them to have a drink of warm wine first. In the fore-
ground, on the south, they saw the raised terrace that used to be die